If you read the newspapers of the early twentieth century, you realize that everyone was fretting then about the “horseless carriage.” They were positive that the new technology of an automobile that drove itself would push humans beyond their natural, God-given, biological limits. They worried it would not be safe because human attention and reflexes were not created to handle so much information flying past the windshield. That debate reached a crescendo in 1904 when the Hollywood film director, Harry Myers, received the world’s first speeding ticket for rushing down the streets of Dayton, Ohio, at death-defying speed. He was going twelve miles per hour. By 1930, pundits had calmed down about the automobile being too fast for the human brain and human reflexes but then Motorola came up with a handy new invention called the dashboard radio and that started a new round of worry. How could anyone pay attention to the roadway with music or commentary or radio soap operas distracting their attention? So now, again, we are at one of those moments of rapid technological change when attention again has our attention.
A central concern of media education has been to empower young people with the ability to question, analyze, critique and deconstruct messages they encounter in media. But in a global remix culture, the power and relevance of critique itself may be due for critique. Critique is retrospective: it turns its attention on artifacts and texts that have already been produced and exist in the world in a relatively stable form. It also assumes a separation between the producer of media, and its consumer – a separation that is called into question by the increasing ease with which amateurs can use digital media to create and share their own media artifacts.
Ever had one of dem days you wish woulda stayed home / Run into a
group of niggas who getting they hate on / You walk by they get wrong you reply
then shit get blown / Way outta proportion way past discussion / Just you
against them, pick one then rush em / Figure you get jumped here thats next /
They don't wanna stop there now they bustin / Now you gushin, ambulance rushin
you to the hospital / with a bad concussion / Plus ya hit 4 times bullet hit ya
spine paralyzed waist down / now ya wheel chair bound / Never mind that now you
lucky to be alive. - T.I. "Dead and Gone"
Sometimes, I feel like I'm living in parallel universes. I attend conferences and hear from parents and journalists who are talking about the bullying pandemic. And then I talk with teenagers about their social dramas, producing the interactions that adults identify as bullying. I hear from well-meaning adults about how they want to create interventions to help teenagers with bullying. And then I hear teens complain about the assemblies and messaging that they're forced to listen to that don't even begin to resonate with them. Whenever I talk to folks about bullying, I'm forced to confront the fact that adults and teens are talking past one another. And then I hear songs like T.I.'s "Dead and Gone" that capture the escalation at the most extreme sense and hope that teens are taking home the core message of the song, which T.I. captures simply as "I won that fight, I lost that war." The cultural logic underpinning bullying is far more complex than most adults realize. And technology is not radically changing what's happening; it's simply making what's happening far more visible. If we want to combat bullying, we need to start by understanding the underlying dynamics. And we need to approach interventions with an evaluation-based mindset. We won't know how to stop bullying and no amount of legislation requiring education is going to do squat until we actually find intervention mechanisms that work. And that starts with understanding what's happening.